Dayton Daily News & Radio's 'Joe's Journal'
Some of the good heartedness of big Fred Leathermon seems to have rubbed off onto one Don Stocker of Bradford, Ohio. At least that's the feeling one gets whenever he happens to be in the company of Don -- either at one of the midwest reunions, or visiting in his home. But more than just a mere exchange of personality and goodwill betwixt the twain, evidence reveals firsthand that some pretty hard over-the-barrel and under-the-table transactions have been going on of late between Iron-Man Leathermon and Spark Plug Stocker in way of some of those rare antique cast-iron toy tractors, steam engines, horse-drawn grain wagons and other goodies which are now occupying the shelves in Don's domicile.
For the past four or five years at midwestern reunions, wherever the Fred Leathermon trailer of antique toys happened to be set up and staked out, there would be Don Stocker hanging around, his eyes bulging, his mouth drooling at all the 'goodies' displayed there. And whenever Fred 'the greater' would be seen hoofing it across the reunion grounds to take in the sights or plop down at the 'eatin' tent' for a bowl of beans 'n crackers for his noontime lunch, there would be Don 'the lesser' at his side -- taking in the sights and eating beans tool Somehow the corpulant Fred Leathermon seemed to hold the ever-present Don Stocker in perfect orbit around him, like a planet revolves about the Sun. Whether it was the Leathermon 'charisma' or those rare antique cast-iron toys -- or both that worked this special magic, we haven't decided, but we are highly suspicious of the latter.
There are several ways to go about trying to buy things from a guy who collects odd-ball items and doesn't wish to sell them, once he's got them. There's the one method most of us unfortunately employ, for want of wisdom to know better -- just asking the man if he'll sell it and getting the reply 'No -- it's not for sale.' And that is that. Then there's a more successful way -- that of having something the other fellow wants worse than what he already has -- a most powerful wedge which often works in prying loose the object of your desire. But the most effective approach which works when all others fail is to just hang around the guy you want to swap something out of -- live with him if you have to, but sweet-talk him, cajole him, always agree with him, keep your sunny-side exposed to him at all times, be complimentary, a first-rate and dependable friend in both fair and foul weather, never disagreeing with him but always accenting his strong points of character and personality even to the extreme of telling him he's most generous while all the time eyeing the objects of your desire which you will eventually talk him out of.
Don Stocker's biggest and latest prize is this Case Cross-mount Model-T, 25-45 of 1929 vintage. It was in perfect, original condition, purchased from Harold Fleisch. Hardly worn. It weighs almost five tons. Don Stocker manipulates the controls on the deck. Bob Palsgrove has just wound the engine up, the big crank is still in his hand.
One of Don Stocker's 'prizes' is a recent find of a salesman's sample road scraper which peddlers took around to show county and township commissioners for purchase to improve dirt roads. Don Stocker and Donny admire the beautiful detail and exact scale of the rig.
Although I was surprised, I was not totally dumfounded when Don Stocker opened the doors of his dining room treasure chest -- his wife's china closet to be exact -- and there I saw an array of very familiar cast-iron antique toys.
'These look like Fred Leathermon's old toys,' I said, in amazement. 'A lot of them are,' replied Don Stocker. 'But then some are in there that I've also acquired, buying and swapping here and there.'
There they were all lined up on the shelves where 'the Missus,' Loretta Stocker, had formerly displayed her finest china, prior to Don taking over with his toys. The familiar old cast-iron horse-drawn vehicles of conveyance, the miniature steam engines and old-time tractors, many of which I had seen on the shelves of the Fred Leathermon trailer exhibit at some of the Indiana-Ohio reunions in years past. Unlike Old Mother Hubbard of Mother Goose fame, whose cupboard was bare, Don Stocker's cupboard was loaded to forebearance -- with so many old antique toys that, when he finally got more, he had to begin stashing them, like Fibber McGee, in the family clothes closet.
'Don won't let you look into his closet,' warned Mrs. Loretta Stocker, smiling. 'If you open the door, everything flies out at you.'
In a moment, Don Stocker began reaching for his favorites -- picking out a special model of an old steam traction engine and a grain separator which he'd modeled himself and placing them in operational position in front of the imposing old antique Forestville Clock which adorns one of the table tops in the Stocker dining room.
'I made this little steam engine, and also the separator which even works like a big one,' said Don. 'The engine runs by an electric motor, and I plan to someday belt it to the little separator to show at some of the reunions.'
Soon Don Stocker's hands were busy again, pawing more prize goodies out of the wife's former china closet -- all for me to see. There was the old cast-iron Huber Roller, the little Case Tractor with harrow attached, a McCormick Deering Grain Wagon pulled by two husky looking draft horses, a cast-iron Jaeger Cement Mixer that looked true-to-scale, a little live-steam traction engine Don had worked over, and one of his main objects of affection -- an original Structo Tractor with hand-crank six inches long to wind the spring motor.
'This Structor Tractor has such a heavy spring it takes that big a crank to wind 'er up,' mused Stocker, placing the diminutive antique farm machinery, representing the three eras of agricultural power -- horse power, steam power and gas power -- on the floor for a better, uncluttered view. Yet with these choice pieces removed, the wife's china closet seemed almost as full as before. (Wouldn't Old Mother Hubbard have envied a cupboard as well loaded as that?) Like the story in the Bible, about the cruze of oil that never failed, the more toys Don Stocker pulled out of his Pandora's Box, the fuller it seemed to be.
Bob Palsgrove starts International Model M 1? horsepower. Don Stocker is at the Associated Chore Boy. A 4-horse Foos in background. You'll see them at some of the midwest shows, no doubt.
Old-time thresh engine and separator (that really works) were made by Don Stocker. Sons, Donny and Alan admire them. Background is antique Forestville Clock. The Stocker House is like a Museum.
But the toy stage in Don Stacker's life never phased out like it has in the lives of some of the other antique toy collectors. Instead, it has more recently evolved into the collecting of the antique prototypes -- the full-sized gas tractors and gas engines which now sets aside the toy-loving Don as a real and genuine Spark Plug who is working toward the goal of exhibiting his big prizes, along with his toy goodies at several of the steam and gas engine shows.
And when it comes to that worst of all plagues that haunts the working days of 'ye collectors' of old gas engines and tractors, and awakening them like looming nightmares from their sweet repose -- leaking gas tanks and copper fuel lines -- Don Stocker is well equipped to handle the problems.
'I don't use packing or gas-line goo on any of my connections,' says he. 'I fix 'em right in the first place. That's my job as foreman over heating and air-conditioning at the Hall and Strohmeyer, Co., Inc., at Piqua, Ohio.' (Yes, Spark Plug Stocker should know how.)
It was down the alley to a neighbor's barn that Don Stocker led me, to show off his latest and biggest prize -- a 1929 vintage, four-cylinder Case Cross-mount, his first venture from the antique, cast-iron toy tractor to the real thing. His right-hand cohort, Bob Palsgrove, formerly a boiler repairman on Pennsy 'Big Power' and boasting first-name acquaintanceship with such outstanding engineers as Iron-Man Danny McCorkle, had just arrived, ready to lend assistance.
Latching onto the big, two-foot iron crank, Palsgrove was soon rocking the mighty Case flywheel back and forth against compression, to limber up his cranking arm, whilst Stocker climbed aboard the deck and began fidgeting with fuel adjustments and choke. Everything was now in readiness, and the next time that Palsgrove came against compression, then leaned against the crank, the big Case began firing without a miss. Shifting into reverse and engaging the clutch, Don Stocker backed the old Case out of its winter's lair, 'midst a rumble of gears meshing, and parked it in the alley to bask in the late afternoon sun. The sturdy Case Cross-mount was hitting it off at an even 'one, two, three, four' -- as musical and soul-satisfying as the 'tromp, tromp, tromp' of the village militia marching to Sousa's 'Stars and Stripes Forever.'
'It's a Case Model-T - 25-45 horsepower,' yelled Spark Plug Stocker over the staccato of the exhaust. 'Bought it off of Harold Fleisch, down at West Alexandria, during one of his weak moments -- when he couldn't say 'No.' And I hurried up and wrote out the check for it before he changed his mind.'
During the spring months, Stocker and Palsgrove went over the old Case thoroughly and couldn't find a thing wrong with it. Pulleys, belt-guides, steering were sound. It had, to all appearances, hardly been used.
'Everything on it is original equipment and parts,' says Stocker. 'About all we've done is clean it up and paint it, and I made an auxiliary gas tank for it.'
'Although this tractor was originally made to run on coal oil, a veteran Case Tractor man, Jim Hess, who still farms 400 acres at 85, warned us to run it only on gas,' explained Don. 'Jim said he ran his new Case on coal-oil, the first season he was in big-time threshing, and he had to call a factory expert to come and install new sleeves, right out in the field. Hess said that the factory man told them that the coal-oil was letting the lubrication 'get away' from the cylinder walls by thinning the oil.'
'This is interesting news to me,' I said to Stocker. 'I've just been trying to wean my old Joe Dear Delco power-plant prime-mover over from gasoline to kerosene, the fuel for which it was likewise originally made to run on. But, when I unscrewed the Delco crankcase plug, the oil gushed out like a geyser. There was more oil than I had originally poured into it.'
Stocker, a veteran heat and air-conditioning expert, explained that the so-called coal-oil or kerosene we are getting today is actually a No. 2 fuel oil and not at all like the original coal-oil these engines used to run on. The fuel oil doesn't burn up completely in the cylinder, as did the old kerosene, and some of it passes the rings and drops down into the crankcase.
So, not only did Don Stocker switch from kerosene back to gasoline, without fighting, but I did also. (Although I liked the extra power the kerosene gave during the long six-inch cylinder stroke.)
'This old Case ran really fine on kerosene,'said Stocker. 'And Palsgrove and I even mixed half gas and half kerosene and it really ran 'em off beautifully on that. But, we're still going Chore Boy. Still back inside the garage was an ancient four-horse Foos Engine whose drab, unpainted decor didn't quite match the sparkle of original colors the boys had lovingly applied to the two engines in the foreground.
Calling my attention back to the big Case Cross-mount, sitting in the distance, Don Stocker said, 'Doesn't she shine beautifully in the afternoon sun? What do you think of the grass green shade and the red wheels? We tried to make it to run it strictly on gas. Even then it would still pull five 14-bottoms, just as well.'
Donny and Alan Stocker play with a selection of Don Stacker's old cast-iron toys, representing three phases of farm power development - horses, steam and gasoline. L. to r. -- old cast-iron Huber Roller, Jaager Cement Mixer, Steam-powered traction engine (rebuilt by Don). In front. Cast-iron Case Tractor with harrow, McCormick-Deering Grain Wagon and horses, a genuine Structo tractor with large crank needed to wind heavy spring. Little Caterpillar to right.
'I've got more to show you,' confided Stocker, opening the doors on a nearby neighbor's garage and rolling out a couple of one-cylinder antique gas engines.
Palsgrove started rocking the flywheels on a one-and-a-half horse International Model-M, choking and coaxing it into firing, while Stocker toyed with a one-and-three-quarter horse Associated look as original as possible.'
If the old barn had been somewhat larger, I'd have sworn the big Cross-mount Model-T Case had just come off the factory floor.
'Hope we can take these two gas engines, and the old Case around to a few of the shows this summer,' said Stocker. 'They're ready to go -- so are the cast-iron toys.'
A tip of the Official Spark Plug Katy to you, Don Stocker, for all your tireless efforts gathering and preserving the old time tractors and gas engines -- both little and big. And to your helper, Bob Palsgrove, for lending that extra arm and hand, plus the know-how whenever it's needed. (As it most often assuredly is.)
The work you have done in the past, and are still engaged in pursuing - will do much to erase the so-called 'generation gap' by apprising the younger generation of our Golden Agricultural past. And the delight it gives in mem Vies to the old-timers yet around, and the 'not-so-old-timers' who still remember, remains a labor of love, not registered by time-clocks and wage scales on factory computers.
Though there never may be any statues sculptured from marble slabs in honor of your gallantry -- those are reserved solely for politicians, patriots and warriors -- the human race no longer glories in such brazen trappings, glorified tombstone at best. It's for your collecting and preserving the authentics, from the littlest to the biggest, that we honor you the 'mostest.'